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Felon: Poems

4.39  ·  Rating details ·  988 ratings  ·  161 reviews
Felon tells the story of the effects of incarceration in fierce, dazzling poems—canvassing a wide range of emotions and experiences through homelessness, underemployment, love, drug abuse, domestic violence, fatherhood, and grace—and, in doing so, creates a travelogue for an imagined life. Reginald Dwayne Betts confronts the funk of postincarceration existence and examines ...more
Hardcover, 85 pages
Published October 15th 2019 by W. W. Norton & Company
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Average rating 4.39  · 
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 ·  988 ratings  ·  161 reviews

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Oct 27, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Outstanding poems about incarceration and how a man can still feel like he is in a cage as he walks free. The range here is impressive. There is a real honesty here of a man who is looking into himself without blinking. At times, it is uncomfortable, but in a good way. The redacted poems about bail injustice are particularly powerful but really, the collection as individual poems and as a whole, is incredibly moving, nuanced, and compelling.
Apr 10, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2020, poetry
A collection of raw poems exploring the toll of incarceration and its aftermath on the lives of Black men. Especially memorable are the poems on fatherhood and recovery, and the audio, read by the author, is great.
Aug 09, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: poetry
Primal, exquisite and even beautiful: to intertwine the experience of life after prison and always keeping that experience with you. I won't share an excerpt because each poem needs to be read in its entirety- each poem needs to be fully felt in its whole expression. I see these poems with a reverence, a respect- for great poetry is truly rare and must be treasured when it is found. It is a rare art form in its fullest expression & these are a stunning accomplishment. ...more
Jenny (Reading Envy)
Dec 26, 2019 rated it really liked it
These poems tell the truth about how prison changes you, how it never leaves you, and what relationships are like afterward, particularly if you are also black and recently incarcerated. It is its own form of PTSD.

This collection came out from W.W. Norton on October 15th.
Craig Werner
This will almost certainly be my choice for best poetry volume for 2019. Betts has written powerfully of his experience in and after prison--he wound up incarcerated as a result of a dumb youthful mistake that probably wouldn't have landed an affluent and/or white kid in jail. After his release, he pursued a law degree and has now established himself as both a writer and a lawyer.

Which, as Felon makes crystal clear, doesn't mean his life is anything resembling easy. The shadows of his actions an
Oct 19, 2019 rated it liked it
These poems are raw and best appreciated listening to the audiobook which is read by the author.
Mar 21, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: poetry
This is a powerful and eloquent collection. Betts is able to communicate the experiences surrounding crimes, and the depth, prejudice, and eternity of the aftermath. The poet owns his actions in full, and tells us how they haunt every minute of his life inside and outside prison. He speaks of love for his wife and his small sons. But he also demands that we own the world faced by young black men, and the criminal justice system as well.

"That want to be known, governs us all."

The language is inf
chantel nouseforaname
You can feel the suffocation.. the ways that America, it's systemic injustice coupled with one's own personal mistakes can create a lack of space around a black man.

I loved these poems. Traumatic. Eye-opening. We're fortunate that in his personal space, Reginald has found words. He is a master wordsmith. You can feel his truths liberating himself and others through each page. He takes you through a range of his thoughts and emotions yet stokes the fires inside you allowing you to locate, wrestl
Glennys Egan
Dec 08, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I read this slowly, a poem or two each evening over a few weeks. It was needed to absorb the stories, confessions, tributes contained in these. A deeply moving collection. The redaction pieces are especially powerful.
Sep 30, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: poetshere, atonement
In my wallet, I carry around a daguerrotype,
A mugshot, no smiles, my name a tithe.
What must I pay for being this stereotype?

I found this collection compelling but not exactly a catalyst. That is a not an effort to lessen or circumvent these poems. They exist as honest efforts to reveal injustice. The words themselves appear tempered by wisdom, a philosophical resignation that time has passed. The scars bear witness but the anger has been sublimated . The call now is to acknowledge and correct. T
Greg Bem
Dec 07, 2020 rated it it was amazing
There really isn't another collection of poems like this one out there. The sprawl of incarceration is challenging to reconcile as it is to comprehend generally, but Betts provides the many opportunities to learn it. ...more
Ace Boggess
Oct 27, 2019 rated it it was amazing
This collection is as close to perfect as any on this subject that I can imagine. The themes are personal to me. The writing is beautiful and disturbing. Many of the poems take on subjects (namely prison and life after prison) that I've been trying to write about for years, but they do it so much better. Some of these are poems I wish I had written.

Throughout the book, both the language and insight shared are moving, like in this opening of the poem "Confession":

"If I told her how often I though
Dec 08, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: poetry
“This is the brick & mortar of the America
that murdered Tamir & may stalk the laughter

in my backseat. I am a father driving
his Black sons to school & the death
of a Black boy rides shotgun & this
could be a funeral procession. The Death
a silent thing in the air, unmentioned-
because mentioning death invites taboo...”

“Lost in what's gone. Reinventing myself with lies:
I walk these streets, ruined by what I hide.
Jesus died for somebody's sins, but not mine.

Did a stretch in prison to be released to a c
Dec 02, 2019 rated it really liked it
Betts was incarcerated for years after participating in a carjacking as a teen. He is now a Yale law graduate and an accomplished poet, whose work speaks to the complex realities of race, gender, and mass incarceration. His work feels very masculine in tone, the relationship to self and others infused with the effects of (state and personal) violence, the relationship with an absent father, and frequent mention of whiskey. These were powerful poems, and varied in form. Among them were Ghazal (a ...more
Dec 31, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Indescribable power lies within these 100 pages. I won't share my highlights because, despite having one-liners that punch you in the gut, each of Betts's poems demand to be read in their entireties. Among my favorites were the redaction poems, which aside from being ironic and hella angering, are a testament to Betts's visionariness and artistry. This book is important. A must read ...more
Highly recommend the audio version. Poetry read by the author lifts the words off the page.
Andrea Arango
Jun 26, 2020 rated it really liked it
"You cast a ballot for a Black man in / America while holding a Black baby. / Name a dream more American than / that, especially with your three felonies / serving as beacons to alert anybody / of your reckless ambition. That woman / beside you is the kind of thing fools / don't even dream about in prison & / she lets you hold your boy while voting, / as if the voting makes you & him / more free."
I don't even know what else to say about this book other than it's a painful and moving must-read c
Richard S
Jul 01, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: modern-lit, race
Wow. An Incredible collection of poems. The author spent 8 years in jail as a kid, then made his way all the way to Yale Law School. The poems are intensely personal, about incarceration, about life after prison, about marriage, drinking and being a father and a fatherless son. There are poems which are redactions of actual legal briefs.

But even more astonishingly, the poems are highly complex, often obscure and difficult to read. A lot of African American poetry is didactic and stylistically si
Nov 29, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I urge you to hear Betts read if you can. The poems in Felon do many things, including linger in loss and sadness. With our justice system, I'm not sure it could be any other way.

A strong review:
Aug 18, 2020 rated it really liked it
4 stars

I was initially interested in this collection because I was familiar with the artwork on the cover (which I would swear I heard about from a poem by a different poet, but I can't remember which, so that will require further fact-checking :P). [edit: right after posting this review I googled it, and the poem I'm thinking of is "Correspondence" by the wonderful Jericho Brown] There are some startlingly good poems here ("Diesel Therapy" especially), although there were a few with a sameness
Jan 24, 2020 rated it it was amazing
The Redaction Poems are an absolute highlight in this collection. So powerful and an inspiring project that sheds light on how our current bail system unfairly impacts the poor. But holy hell, the writing style offers a few gut punches. Loved this collection.

" Holding on, ensuring that nothing survives,
Not even regret. That's the thing that gets you,
Holding on to memories like they're your archives,
Like they're there to tell you something true
About what happened. My past put a skew
On how I hel
Meg Tuite
Apr 04, 2020 rated it it was amazing
"November 5, 1980" is a poem from the brilliant, transformative collection "Felon" by Reginald Dwayne Betts! LOVE!

"I have called, in my wasted youth, the concrete slabs
Of prison home. Awakened to guards keeping tabs
On my breath. Bartered with every kind of madness,
The state's mandatory minimums & my own callus.
I've never called a man father; & while sleep, twice
Wrecked cars; drank whisky straight; nothing suffices–
I fell in love with sons I wouldn't give my name. Once
Swam at midnight in the Atla
May 03, 2020 rated it it was amazing
An incredible collection of poetry in its own right made all the more so for its authors poignant first hand understanding of incarceration and its lasting impact.
So often those who have served time are written off by society, but this book not only illustrates the impact of such on the individual, but also the loss to society as a whole.
This should be essential reading for all; not just for its artistic merit but also for the valuable light it shines on the long lasting impact of the criminal
May 14, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: poetry, readin2020, 2019
“... We all knew that in time our legs would shake,
that our bodies would betray us & admit that the heart,
though not useless, lacks the thing needed for some miracles.
& yet, against this truth, I keep praying my woman,
who is no more mine than any woman can belong to a man,
but is her own, constellation of music & desire, as is anyone,
will forgive history, knowing a thousand angels stand beside,
exhausted, too, though certain the heat of their wings will bring
a gale fierce enough to lift this hur
Chanice HG
Dec 17, 2019 rated it it was amazing
A very powerful, lyrical look at incarceration—the poems tackle the subject from many angles, through many forms. The redacted poems, made from real lawsuits, were among some of the strongest, adding to the weight these poems carry. Betts uses beautiful language & lines to describe something that can’t be called such.
Zaynab Shahar
Jun 10, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I plan to read a print copy at some point, but the audio book was a treat. Hearing Betts read his own poems brings the words to another dimension. I also enjoyed the blues soundtrack in the background of certain pieces- which I imagine are supposed to invoke the style of blues that is associated with incarceration of a particular era (1920s-1950s).
David Hernández
Oct 24, 2020 rated it really liked it
The whole book was incredible. I'm still thinking about how creative it was to reinvent redaction, usually a tool used to censor information, into a tool used to focus our attention on the violence of our legal system. Really impressive.

I usually don't enjoy poetry, but I really appreciated this.
030720: quarantine buddy read #12 with Keagan! 3.5 stars -- 4.5 for the quality, but i knocked off one because of some formal antisemitism (writing "god" g-d for The Aesthetic). lol....... ...more
Leslie Anne
Jul 06, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2020-favorites
The audiobook of this with the author was stunning. I loved being able to hear his voice read his poems. The most impactful poem for me was "In Alabama" I think. I'll defiantly be listening to this again. ...more
Nov 05, 2019 rated it it was amazing
A confession begins when I walked Black out of that parking lot.
A confession began when I, without combing my hair, dressed
For a day that would find me walking out of that parking lot.
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Reginald Dwayne Betts is a poet, essayist, and national spokesperson for the Campaign for Youth Justice. He writes and lectures about the impact of mass incarceration on American society. He is the author of three collections of poetry, Felon, Bastards of the Reagan Era, and Shahid Reads His Own Palm, as well as a memoir, A Question of Freedom. A graduate of Yale Law School, he lives in New Haven, ...more

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